1936 Indian Dispatch-Tow
Sometimes, three wheels are better than two
Bud Phelps aboard his 1936 Indian Dispatch-Tow shortly after its restoration. The restoration was a team effort between Bud and son Gary, who thought the Dispatch-Tow would make a good replacement for Bud’s Indian Four.
Photo by Gary Phelps
1936 Indian Dispatch-Tow
Top speed: 65mph
Engine: 750cc air-cooled flathead 42-degree V-twin
Weight (wet): 500lbs (227kg) (approx.)
Price then / now: $458 /$35,000 (est.)
When I was growing up in suburbia, most of the kids on my block had a plastic toy called a Big Wheel. There was one big wheel out front with pedals, and two much smaller wheels at the back, making it a three-wheeler. You could call the Indian Dispatch-Tow an adult Big Wheel.
A Big Wheel had a low center of gravity, and your butt sat just a few inches above the asphalt. With enough speed, you could pull off some spectacular power slides. Before there even was a Big Wheel, photographer and Indian Dispatch-Tow owner Gary Phelps built his own version. He and his friends would take a tricycle, turn the frame upside down by reversing the fork, and peel the rubber off the steel rear wheels. Then, with the upside down frame and its lower center of gravity, they’d sit on the “step” between the wheels and pull off power slides. Ah, nostalgia.
A Big Wheel or an upside down tricycle are just toys, though, and there are and were other three-wheelers out there — such as the Indian Dispatch-Tow — that were built for a much more practical purpose. Although the Dispatch-Tow is a completely different kind of three-wheeler, it also invokes a sense of nostalgia, and harkens back to a time when things might have been a bit simpler.
From the history books
According to Harry V. Sucher in his history of Indian, The Iron Redskin, the Indian Dispatch-Tow became a reality in the early 1930s, inspired by the needs of a car dealership only a few doors away from the Indian factory.
As Sucher relates it, the Dispatch-Tow was the result of discussions between Indian’s upper management and the owner of the Springfield Packard dealership. In order to provide better service to his Packard customers and reduce wasted time and money, the dealer wanted to find a simple way of ferrying customer cars back and forth from the customer’s home to the garage. He was tired of sending two men in one car, only to have them both come back to the garage, to be sent back out again after the repairs were made. Fact or fiction, it’s hard to know.
Apparently, Indian took the need seriously, because top designer Charles Franklin drew plans for a three-wheeled vehicle based on the popular Indian 101 Scout chassis, fitted with either a 37-cubic-inch or an optional 45-cubic-inch V-twin engine.
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